Book Review: Building A Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green


Imagine you’re given several years of pedagogical study (or several weeks of training, as the case may be). Then you are thrown into a dunk tank, a classroom full of students who expect you to teach. Now, imagine you’re expected to make sure those students come away with knowledge and perform well on standardized test after tests. This is the situation facing American teachers.

There’s heavy pressure on teachers to grow the next generation of students, but disagreement on how to go about doing that. In Building A Better Teacher, Elizabeth Green explores what makes for a good teacher, dispelling the myth that great teachers are born educators.

Building A Better Teacher dispels another myth about teaching: it’s a profession with lots of time off. Did you think a teacher’s work ends when the school day does, or believe that one perk of teaching is a lot of vacation time? These pages quickly prove that teaching is anything but a restful career.

The teacher—that classic classroom leader with the apple on her desk—is also a top predictor of children’s academic success. Her job is not an easy one, and the expectations are high. A teacher’s day begins hours before the first students walk through the classroom doors, Green shows, and ends late at night, which often means papers to grade and lesson plans to write. The workload is heavy, to say the least.

As much as the book is about teachers, it is also about the strengths and flaws of America’s education system. Green talks about the tension between accountability and autonomy, the external requirements that teachers face, and the value of giving teachers room to shape their curricula and space to delve into students’ mistakes, as well as their own.

One thing missing from American education, Green shows, is the sense of collaboration and support provided in other countries, like Japan, where teachers practice jugyokenkyu, or “lesson study,” sessions where they analyze a each other’s lessons to better understand what they’re doing right, and what they should be doing better.

Green’s book takes us into the pedagogical thickets. It examines the history of teaching and looks at the current state of teaching, using both characters and data to form a picture of American schools. The chapters are peppered with examples of teachers who shine, and who have devised more effective ways of keeping students engaged and learning.

In a candid talk with students of LynNell Hancock’s Covering Education class at Columbia University Journalism School, Elizabeth Green spoke about her book’s conception. She cited Malcolm Gladwell’s notion that perception does not match reality. It’s a great opening for a book.


2 Comments on “Book Review: Building A Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green”

  1. Hello.

    I am a Japanese and have read the NY Times article titled “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?” which is the excerpt of the book written by Ms. Elizabeth Green.

    Unfortunately, I have to say that the account of Japanese education in the article as well as in the book is seriously misleading.
    So I wrote her a letter and published it as below:

    Big Doubts on the NY Times article “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?”

    I am really anxious about the untrue story about my country spreading in your country.
    I hope you understand it and publish different opinions.

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